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Full text of "Walt Whitman, the prophet-poet"

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THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




ENDOWED BY THE 

DIALECTIC AND PHILANTHROPIC 

SOCIETIES 




UNIVERSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPEL HILL 



00038952106 



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the last date stamped under "Date Due." If not on hold it 
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WALT WHITMAN 
THE PROPHET-POET 




WALT WHITMAN 

THE PROPHET-POET 



BY 
ROLAND D. SAWYER 




BOSTON 

THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY 
1918 



Copyright, 1918, by 
The Four Seas Company 



The Four Seas Press 
Boston, Mass., U. S. A. 



tJt 



TO 

CLARENCE DARROW 

A FELLOW-TRAVELLER 
ALONG WALT'S OPEN-ROAD 



804882 



/w3^^^JT/ 






PREFACE 

In that world in which I live and move and 
have my being, the chief source of formation, 
growth, influence and impression, has been my 
reading. There are many books and writings 
to which I am eternally indebted ; works on his- 
tory, literature, economics, theology, philos- 
ophy, which, at different periods of my life, 
I have taken up and studied, and they became 
milestones along my mental journey. But there 
are also books and writings of quite another 
character; works that we read not as sources 
of information or from which to frame our 
philosophy of life, but works that are inspira- 
tional and are to be read again and again. Such 
works are books of biography and autobi- 
ography, religious writings, and poetry. In this 
realm " The Gospel of Jesus," and " Leaves of 
Grass," are books that have out-distanced all 
others in their influence upon me, and are books 
which I want ever within reach. 

5 



6 PREFACE 

In the early weeks of the year of 1907 my 
eyes were very bad; evenings I could read but 
little; sometimes it was a few pages, sometimes 
only a few lines, then I must close the book and 
brood, ponder, think over what I had read. 
For such form of reading the poets surpassed 

all others, and I soon found that Whitman sur- 
passed the other poets ; that from him I received 
the strongest stirrings of my emotions and 
thoughts. 

Thereupon I turned to study this man Whit- 
man; I had access to a fine private collection of 
Whitman matter, as well as the public libra- 
ries, and for several weeks I saturated myself 
with Whitman ; what he had written, what had 
been written about him. That was six years 
ago, but Whitman does not lose his grip on me 
— he lasts, he wears — he touches life and feel- 
ing at so many places that I believe he will last 
and wear. 

Much has been written about Whitman, and 
it has been well done ; but it has ofttimes been in 
a too technical vein (as Symonds), or in such a 
form as would appeal only to enthusiasts (as 



PREFACE 7 

Traubel), or in too expensive form (as Binns). 
Accordingly I have felt the need of a short, up- 
to-date, popular presentation of the poet, and 
his aims and philosophy: to fill that need I have 
written the following pages under the title of 
Walt Whitman, The Prophet Poet. 

Roland D. Sawyer. 
August ■, 19 1 3 

Ample Manse, 
Off-the-beaten-path-a-bit. 

Ware, Mass. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I The Man n 

II His Message — Democracy .... 20 

III His Religion 31 

IV The Nature Lover 40 

V His Note of Joy 46 

VI The Poet Pioneer 54 

VII His Place Among the Prophets . . 67 



WALT WHITMAN 
THE PROPHET-POET 

CHAPTER ONE 

THE MAN 

" The good, gray poet gone: 

brave hopeful Walt, 
He may not have been a singer 

without fault, 
Yet there rang 

True music through his rhapsodies, 
As he sang, 

Of brotherhood, freedom, love and hope. 
He shall find hearers, who in a slack time, 
Of puny bards and pessimistic rhyme, 
Dared to bid men adventure and rejoice: 
His " yawp barbaric/' was a human voice ; 
The singer was a man" 

London Punch. 

NO more baffling figure ever entered the 
realm of literature than Walt Whitman. 
When he first issued his modest edition of one 



12 WALT WHITMAN 

thousand copies of " Leaves of Grass " in 1855, 
he was greeted on the one hand by Ralph 
Waldo Emerson, then in the height of his Con- 
cord career, with a letter glowing in praise: in 
which Emerson said among other things, 
" I greet you at the beginning of a great 
career." 

On the other hand, the conventional literary 
reviews greeted him with prompt and savage 
abuse. Said the Boston Intelligencer, " 'Leaves 
of Grass,' is the work of some escaped lunatic." 
The Criterion said, " The author of this book 
must be possessed by the soul of a donkey who 
died of disappointed love." The London 
Critic said, "The author of this book ought to 
be publicly whipped." There were a few re- 
viewers who treated Walt with forbearance, 
Edward Everett Hale for instance; and there 
was a still larger number of reviewers, who 
joined with readers of serious literature, and 
treated Walt with contemptuous silence. But 
Walt Whitman was not a figure to be treated 
with indifference and thus disposed of, as he 
says — 



THE MAN 13 

" I have arrived, 
Bearded, sun-burnt, gray necked, forbidding, 
To be wrestled with as I pass 
For the solid prizes of the universe." 

And surely he was to be reckoned with; smug 
conventionalism might perhaps have silenced 
the individual Walt Whitman, but Whitman was 
more than an individual, he was the voice of a 
coming new humanity, the expression of coming 
changes in human life that were not to be 
checked. 

If a touch with his personality is needed to 
understand the literary work of any man, it is 
surely so with Whitman. Dowden says, " Vital 
personal contact with Whitman is essential to 
a true knowledge of him." Triggs put it even 
stronger and declares that " personal absorbtion 
is the price of understanding him." It is easily 
seen to be true that we must first look at Walt 
himself in order to understand and appreciate 
his work, when we pause to think of the purpose 
of " Leaves of Grass," which was to show us a 
new kind of a man, the modern man. Bur- 
roughs said in an essay in the Critic (March 19, 



i 4 WALT WHITMAN 

1898), " In Emerson we see life through the 
Transcendental spirit, in Carlyle through the 
heroic spirit, in Hugo through the Romantic, in 
Arnold through the classic, but in Whitman 
through the democratic." 

This is indeed a splendid and accurate classi- 
fication; and it is essential to understand the 
man, to see him as Thoreau saw him, the great- 
est democrat of his day — then we can under- 
stand his place and message. Careful study of 
primary sources, (" Leaves of Grass "), and of 
secondary sources, (his biographers), will soon 
bring us in sight of the man described so well by 
O'Conner — " Large, calm, superbly formed: 
clad in the careless and rough and picturesque 
costume of the common people — resembling 
the stevedore, mechanic, seaman or laborer, 
passing leisurely along the pavement, such is 
Walt Whitman." 

This was the man, who by some sort of in- 
tuition or cosmic consciousness, seems to have 
been first to feel the modern spirit, and to have 
struck up its songs for the world. A writer and 



THE MAN 15 

poet, who as Burroughs says, " provokes in- 
quiry and will repay it." 

Whitman was born of good English stock 
which he could trace as far back as 1560. They 
were a race of solid, tall, strong framed, long 
lived, moderately moving, friendly people. 
Walt took these characteristics from them, and 
was a full six foot tall and in his best days 
weighed 212 pounds. He was born in 18 19 at 
West Hill, Long Island, the second in a family 
of six sons and two daughters; his boyhood was 
divided between Long Island and Brooklyn; he 
attended the common school till he was 13 and 
was then sent to learn the printer's trade. 
From 17 to 20 he spent his time teaching school, 
writing some for the papers, and occasionally 
working at his printing trade. Around the 
age of 20 he published and edited a small sheet 
on Long Island for a year and a half; for sev- 
eral years after, or till 1846, Walt worked at 
his trade in New York, occasionally writing 
something for the newspapers, attending the 
various meetings and places that would attract 



1 6 WALT WHITMAN 

a serious minded mechanic. In 1846 Whitman 
was appointed editor of the Brooklyn Daily 
Eagle, and held the position two years, when 
he left it to take charge of a paper in New 
Orleans. In this Southern city romance seems 
for the first time to have visited his life. Love 
came between himself and a Southern woman, 
apparently of higher social rank which caused 
her family to look upon any thought of marriage 
with disfavor. 

Love grew to intimate relations however, and 
the woman became the mother of a child. 
Whitman very suddenly gave up his position and 
returned North, and was ever after strangely 
reticent about the whole affair; he tore mention 
of it from his books, and seldom referred to it 
unless to speak of it as the tragedy of his life. 
There seems to have been an agreeable under- 
standing between him and the woman, for he 
seems to have visited her again, and it is not 
sure but that she later bore him other children; 
and one of the grandchildren is said to have 
visited him in the North. 

Shortly after Whitman returned home his 



THE MAN 17 

father died, and a mixture of leisure, newspaper 
work, carpenter work, and a good deal of quiet 
observation, reading and thinking occupied Walt 
for the next five years, or till 1855. Then came 
the putting out of his " Leaves of Grass/' in an 
edition of 1,000 copies, most of the typographic 
work, as well as the writing, being done by him- 
self. Whitman's life passed along till 1862, 
with some writing and work at his calling. 

When the war broke out, Whitman, true to 
the Quaker traditions in which he was brought 
up, subscribed too strongly to Garrison's ideas 
to enlist. But a brother George enlisted, and 
when he was wounded in the Burnside campaign 
in Dec. 1862, Walt at once started for the 
hospital camps. When Walt got there he found 
George was well and out, but the hospitals were 
full of sick and wounded soldier boys who 
needed him quite as much as George ever did, 
and in the hospital camps he stayed, ministering 
to the wounded, until the war closed. The' 
heroism and the love of Walt in those next two 
and a half years has no parallel in the war 
history; it is said he ministered to 100,000 



1 8 WALT WHITMAN 

men. Such devotion and sacrifice should have 
silenced the carping cries of the' outraged 
prudes who were ever criticising him. 

Walt had no means of getting a living, 
and there was no pay in his hospital work, 
so his friends secured for him a govern- 
ment position as a clerk: here he worked 
mornings, and visited the hospitals afternoons. 
Walt kept up this life to the close of the war. 
He also kept up his writing, and his war pieces 
and later work did not prove quite so much a 
shock to the sensitive nerves of the conventional 
people as had his " Song of Walt Whitman," 
and a growing circle of friends, and a growing 
fame became his. In 1873, Walt who had been 
just ten years in Washington, suffered his break- 
down in health, a shock, from which he never 
fully recovered. He was taken to his brother's 
home in Camden, N. J., and had not been long 
there before the mother for whom he felt such a 
great love died, and for the next three years, we 
find Walt, sad, sick and lonely, living with his 
brother. By 1876 he had in a measure re- 
covered his health, and the next few years were 



THE MAN 19 

of considerable activity. He continued to live 
with his brother till 1884, when he bought his 
little home in Camden, where he passed the sun- 
set years of his life, receiving the homage of an 
increasing circle of admirers, till his life went out 
in 1892. 



CHAPTER TWO 



HIS MESSAGE 



DEMOCRACY 



" I speak the pass-word primeval. I give the sign 
of Democracy." 

IN an analysis of Whitman's message to the 
world, there is a very general agreement 
upon its essential elements. Symonds and Bur- 
roughs are the standard interpreters of the poet, 
and a glance at the following table will show 
how thoroughly they agree in their analysis of 
Walt's message; they consider the poet under 
these divisions — 



SYMONDS 

Religion 

Self-Hood 

Sex Element 

Comradeship 

Democracy 

The artist and poet 

Pioneer 

Personality 



BURROUGHS 

Religion 
Self-Reliance 
Sex and Morals 

Democracy 

The artist and his art 

Pioneer 

Poet of Science 

Personality 



20 



HIS MESSAGE— DEMOCRACY 21 

Ingersoll in his short but excellent study of 
Whitman, follows exactly the same classification 
and division, and makes only one addition, 
namely, to consider u Whitman the Philoso- 
pher." Clarke is shorter, and speaks of the 
poet's message under the heads of " Religion, 
Democracy, Art and Personality." Whitman's 
biographers make the same analysis: Binn, the 
best of them, has a chapter on " The Mystic," 
which is different from any treatment by the 
above mentioned writers. Havelock Ellis calls 
Whitman " The Poet of the New Spirit," and 
considers his work under the heads, " Artist, 
Pioneer, Democrat, Personality " ; Dowden 
treats him as " The Poet of Democracy," with- 
out definite analysis, and so does Triggs. It is 
evident that whatever faults Walt may have had, 
he did not fail to make his message clear; there 
is no division in his followers about understand- 
ing him. Burroughs' reference to Whitman's 
relation to modern science is good, but it is 
Burroughs rather than Whitman who sees it, and 
it was not a conscious, integral part of Whit- 
man's teaching. And again Ingersoll's refer- 



22 WALT WHITMAN 

ence to Whitman as " A Philosopher," is hardly 
well taken. It is true that Walt had the soul to 
see things, but it was to see them as the poet or 
seer, rather than the philosopher: to see them 
with the feeling rather than the reason. 

He took in everything, and turned it over and 
over in his mind, but it was to brood over it 
rather than reason about it. Poets come to 
their knowledge by intuition rather than through 
the processes of reasoning, and Walt instead 
of being an exception to the rule, was one of 
its clearest examples. With these omitted, the 
concensus of the opinion of Whitman's students 
is, that to understand his message, one needs to 
discuss and understand, 

His Personality 

His Literary art and aims 

His treatment of Sex 

His Religion 

His position as a Pioneer and Prophet 

His Democracy, Comradeship, Self-hood, etc. 

I would agree that these are the essential 
things to understand to know Walt's message 



HIS MESSAGE— DEMOCRACY 23 

for us; but I would add two more chapters, 
which I think are necessary that we should see, 
and these are, " His Note of Joy " and " His 
Love of Nature." I also would dissent from 
that classification that puts Democracy as one 
element of Walt's message, alongside the others. 
I do not so understand it, Whitman was the 
poet of Democracy, and his democracy does 
not stand alongside of the other elements, but 
it embraces all. There is no fault with 
Symonds' and Burroughs' dissection of the mes- 
sage, but they do not quite state the relation of 
democracy in it to the other elements: democ- 
racy is the mother of all Walt's ideas, not a 
sister to any of them. 

whitman's democracy 

Thus it comes that we consider Walt's 1 
Democracy, not as one of the salient points inj 
his message, but as the message itself. It is 
the warp and woof that contains all else. 
Whitman's Democracy was that revolutionary 
democracy that has been trying to express itself 
in stronger tones ever since it first made itself 



24 WALT WHITMAN 

heard at all, " in the one happy event in his- 
tory," the French Revolution. Democracy in 
Whitman's message, is liberty, equality and fra- 
ternity. 

a — His liberty is the liberty of the individ- 
ual, the whole individual. There was no excuse 
in his mind for anything that infringes on the 
liberty of the individual. This leads him to 
those parts of his message spoken of as his 
individuality, egoism, self-hood, religion, sex 
views, joy in life. Liberty for the whole man, 
his body, every part of it. He resents all 
power, restraint, canons, governments that 
hamper the freest development and expression 
of the individual. In all his writings, he has, 
as foremost in view, this healthy, free person- 
ality. 

" One's self I sing, a simple, separate person." 

" I will effuse egotism, and show it underlying all, 
I will be the bard of personality." 

He insists that everything is for the indi- 
vidual; all poems, doctrines, art, religion, 



HIS MESSAGE— DEMOCRACY 25 

civilizations. He even growls at his beloved 
" States," that they are giving up " modesty, 
honesty, generosity," and have become " keyed 
up by money ideals, money politics, money 
religion, money men " (Camden, page 42), and 
he does this on the ground that they are neglect- 
ing to develop the individual. And he was 
right, he wanted to level up, but he saw money- 
madness was leveling down. Because of his 
zeal for liberty, Walt was ready to leave the 
" Beaten Path " and travel " The Open 
Road "— 

" Henceforth I ask not good fortune — I am good 

fortune . . . 
Strong and content I travel the open road. 

" I am one of those who look carelessly into the faces of 
Presidents and governors as to say — who are 
you?" 

b But Walt's egoism is as Burroughs says, 

" an alttu-egoism ": he wants nothing for him- 
self that 1 he does not want others to have on 
eqi-aal terms. He is for equality; equality of 
all men and both sexes. This led him to 



26 WALT WHITMAN 

further radical sex views, to his humanity feel- 
ings; and he becomes so intensely human and 
sympathetic. His conception of democracy is 
that of an absolute equality. Everything in 
the universe is good if it has a show. The 
creation is sound, evil is just a part of good. 
He believes God made everything, hence it is 
all good. He speaks the word " en-masse," 
and gives the sign of democracy. He crys out 
for equality, of all men, of the sexes. His 
woman is the strong comrade, and the mother 
of men : not the weak toy and sweetheart. All 
men are equal, the wise and the lacking: the 
good and the evil: the rich and the poor. 
Whitman is the bard of them all, of the suc- 
cessful and the failures as well; he puts his 
arms about the outcast and the prostitute: he 
is as embracing as the sun in the skies. Even 
the hardships of the long-drawn and painful 
civilization do not phase Walt, and he would 
agree with Carpenter (" Cause and Cure of 
Civilization ") , that it all is a sort of prolonged 
and necessary disease that will eventually lead 
to a fuller and better life. Like Tolstoy, 



HIS MESSAGE— DEMOCRACY 27 

Whitman had entered the life of the working 
people : not the slums, not the poor degenerate, 
but the working class. 

And he found among them the healthiest 
elements of our human life, the open-hearted, 
free men and women; the honest workers living 
in friendship; caring little for formalities, 
social distinctions and conventions. These 
were the people who in Walt's thought were 
the salt of the earth, and all of us who have 
touched the different classes agree with Walt. 
And so he glories in the common-people, in the 
sun-tan, in the brawn, in the common; exalts 
the uncouth and decries the cultured and effemi- 
nate. He goes forth to " toss the new rough- 
ness and gladness among men." " Open your 
scarfed chin, while I blow grit within you," he 
challenges. His message is for the " divine 
average," his passion is to level all up to the 
plane of the common man and women, to make 
all like them " superb persons." 

c — Under the thought of " comradeship," 
Walt emphasizes the fraternity side of democ- 
racy. His comradeship is not merely the 



28 WALT WHITMAN 

delightful emotions between friends, but a 
social, yes — and political bond. Walt has all 
the faith in men that Jesus ever had, he says — 

" Come, I will make the continent indissoluble; 
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone 

upon, 
I will make divine magnetic lands, 
With the love of comrades." 

And again he puts over against all human in- 
stitutions, states, churches, property and all, 
that one great institution of " the dear love of 
comrades ": 

" The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers, 
The continuance of Equality shall be comrades." 

He looks forward in his message of democ- 
racy to the better day, to that new city of 
friends, when church and state, and all hamper- 
ing institutions and custom shall be dissolved, 
and the Love of Comrades be the only bond in 
society. That may seem to some to-day, to 
be a very insecure bond, but to Walt's far-see- 
ing vision, our present bonds of life are more 
insecure. He saw that social life could not 



HIS MESSAGE— DEMOCRACY 29 

cohere by means of lawyers, agreements on 
paper or force of arms. 

Walt's comradeship is then not something 
different from his democracy, it is rather the 
realization in human life of his democracy; 
when we reach that free relationship we have it, 
till then all this talk about having it is mere 
chatter. To the short-sighted Walt may ap- 
pear only destructive, but to those who see 
farther in, he is ever constructive, he wants to 
throw away the shell, the states, churches, 
emperors, armies, and have in their place the 
ship of democracy. And Walt saw that every- 
thing was working for this, and that when the 
ship is launched there will be stored in it, not 
only all the present but all the past. To make a 
table of analysis of the poet's message, I 
would draw it thus — 





DEMOCRACY 




LIBERTY 


EQUALITY 


FRATERNITY 


Self-Hood 


Humanism 


Comradeship 


Sex Values 


Sex-equality 




Religion 






Joys in life 







30 WALT WHITMAN 

That Walt was no mere preacher, but was 
sincerely in earnest in this message is abund- 
antly testified to by his hospital work in the 
army, and such incidents as his assisting the sin- 
trampled youth to escape the Boston police and 
escape into Canada. 



CHAPTER THREE 

HIS RELIGION 

" I hear and behold God in every object, 
yet understanding God not in the least. 

In the faces of men and women I see God, 
and in my own face in the glass; 

I find letters from God dropped in the streets 
and every one signed by God's name." 

WALT Whitman was a profoundly reli- 
gious man, though his religion was so 
broad and advanced, that he had little sympathy 
with the organized institutions of religion. 
The only religious order that he had at any 
time anything like sympathetic feelings for, 
were the Hicksite Quakers; their influence on 
his life and views was considerable. Walt be- 
lived in God, immortality, religion; but not in 
Christ, the Bible or the church, at least accord- 
ing to the generally accepted Christian views. 
Whitman's God, was the immanent God of the 

31 



32 WALT WHITMAN 

most radical new theology, whom he felt 40 
years before these theologians deduced him. 
Goethe sang — 

" God dwells within and moves within the world and 

molds, 
Himself and Nature in one form enfolds, — " 

and with this agrees the view of Whitman, which 
" sees God in every object." This God of 
Walt's is not one who reveals himself, or to 
whom we may pray in a Christian sense, but 
he is the Eternal Good-Will, which back there 
in the Universe, is the Cause of all things, and 
on whom the race may in confidence rely. And 
this confidence, or reliance on this God, this 
state of mental rest which sees and feels 
Divinity in everything, was what Walt meant by 
his religion, and he ranked it very high. He 
says, " the real and permanent grandeur of 
these states must be their religion." And again, 
" There can be no character or life without 
religion." He also teaches that we may rely 
upon this Good-Will for personal life beyond 
the grave, for immortality; as he expresses it, 



HIS RELIGION 33 

" I laugh at what you call dissolution." 

Toward Jesus Walt had a very tender feel- 
ing, and a reverence for him as a great Teacher : 
the poem, " To Him Who Was Crucified," 
shows this. Walt speaks in one place of 
" Walking the hills of Judea with the beautiful 
gentle God by my side." In another place he 
calls Jesus " The Lord Christ," but these ex- 
pressions were not in the sense of ordinary 
accepted Christian faith. As for the Bible, and 
forms of worship and churches, he says, " We 
consider Bibles and religion divine, that is, they 
grow out of us." Here he means to say that 
they are divine as we are divine, as everything 
is divine, but not in any other sense. Walt 
saw no special revelation, in fact to him it was 
not needed, all is revelation. For this religion, 
this sort of a natural, pantheistic theism, Walt 
was ever urgent in his demands, and he de- 
clares — 

" No man was ever half devout enough — 

None have ever yet adored or worshiped half enough, 

None has ever begun to see how divine, he himself is." 



34 WALT WHITMAN 

And again, we hear him say, " I know I am 
deathless/' "A mouse is enough to stagger 
sextillions of infidels." " I do not despise you 
priests, my faith is the greatest of faiths." 
Whitman's religion was then very near that of 
the advanced liberal of to-day, a sort of natural- 
istic theism. But with the liberal denomina- 
tions Walt found little more sympathy than 
with the orthodox ; jthe Qjiake^s and their inner 
light came nearest to his ideas. And Whitman 
held his conceptions to the end. The attitude 
of mind he reveals in his heart-to-heart talks 
with Traubel during the closing years, is the 
attitude of his whole life. These talks at 
Camden show to the last Walt's strong belief 
in God, in immortality, in the worth of religion. 
It is true Whitman is listed as a free-thinker, 
and that he manifests a deep detest of preachers 
and churches, but the basis of all this was his 
religion, not his lack of it. And his attitude 
toward Jesus in these last days, is the same as 
that of earlier days, he sees in Jesus the great 
soul, the prophet-comrade, nothing more. To 
quote from some of Walt's talks at Camden, he 



HIS RELIGION 35 

says (page 97) speaking of Cable, " he is the 
thinnest man, the most uninteresting, I ever met 
— he is a typical Sunday School Superintendent 
with all that signifies." And what it signifies 
to Walt, he shows us when he says, " The last 
person in the world from whom I should expect 
any inspiration would be the average Sunday 
School teacher — the typical good man of the 
churches, the money bags of the parish." 
Probably there would not be to-day so strong a 
tendency to criticise Walt for such utterances 
as there was when he made them. Walt's 
criticisms of the churchVere indeed very search- 
ing, he says in one place, " The negative virtues 
of the church are to me very abhorrent; the 
morals of the church would be morals if they 
were not something else." 

At another place he remarks, about as Tol- 
stoy later remarked, " That he had often tried 
to discover how Jesus and the churches got so 
divorced, how the institution came to destroy 
the spirit." Walt took as a concrete case 
John Wanamaker, who refused to allow the 
" Leaves " to be sold in his store. " The whole 



36 WALT WHITMAN 

ideal of the church is low, loathsome, horrible, 
a sort of moral degradation, out of touch with 
the struggles of contemporary humanity," 
bitterly complains Walt. 

When the question was put to him, if he 
thought the churches could safely be destroyed, 
he replied, " Yes, why not: I see no use for the 
church if it lags behind the age." He says, 
" The distinctly preacher ages are gone — the 
world is done with sermonizing — I am not 
sorry." 

Walt was tremendously interested in his 
friend Ingersoll, and gloried in IngersolFs 
whacks at the church, and his triumphs over his 
antagonists, especially his triumph over Glad- 
stone. 

Yet Walt distinctly denies any bitterness 
toward the church; he says in one of his Camden 
talks, " People thought I was powerful set 
against the church, but the church never 
bothered me, and I have never bothered the 
church — it is a clean-cut bargain between us." 
" I have nothing at all with the letter of the 
church, but that part of the church which is not 



HIS RELIGION 37 

jailed in church buildings is all mine as well as 
anybody's." Walt's feeling about Jesus is 
reiterated in these last days, when he declares 
to Corning and Clifford, the Unitarian ministers 
who visit him, that he holds the crucifixion of 
Jesus to have been but one of many tragedies, 
and that the life of Jesus was just another life, 
" told big to be sure, but just another life." 
When Walt heard for the first time Ingersoll's 
eulogy on the " Leaves of Grass," he gratefully 
acknowledged the tribute, but pointed out that 
Ingersoll had stopped short of the plain matter, 
" and that ' Leaves of Grass ' was crammed 
full of immortality, bound together by the idea 
of a resident purpose in humanity and the uni- 
verse." Again he declares, " People say the 
* Leaves ' want in religion, but I think it is the 
most religious of books — it is crammed full of 
faith — faith is its one substance, without it, it 
would be an empty vessel." These statements 
show that Walt never changed his attitude on 
religion, that at 70 he held to the same faith as 
at 35. And that his religion was worth some- 
thing to him, is seen by the support it gives him 



38 WALT WHITMAN 

in the burden of his sickness. It shines out in 
those trying sick years of '74 and '75, like the 
faith of St. Francis. See his recorded moods in 
" The Song of the Universal, " " The Prayer of 
Columbus," or " The Song of the Red Wood 
Tree." Hear him cry out, 

"All, all for immortality: 
Love, like the light, silently wrapping all." 

Speaking to God of his faith he says — 

" Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in time and space, 
Health, peaces, salvation universal." 

Few men have felt more secure of personal 
immortality than Walt Whitman. He says, 
u I believe in immortality; and by that I mean 
Identity. I have arrived at this result more by 
feeling than by formal reason, but I believe it, 
yes I know it." 

And lest he be misunderstood he declares 
again a few days later, " When I say immortality 
— I mean identity, the survival of the personal 
soul, your survival, my survival. If there is 
not immortality then the universe is a fraud. I 



HIS RELIGION 39 

agree with Epictetus, that what is good enough 
for the universe is good enough for me; the 
universe is immortal and so am I." Whitman 
would agree with Thoreau in saying, " one 
world at a time," but he would go on to maintain 
that the very expression involved another world, 
as indeed it does. 

I close this reference to Whitman's religion by 
referring the reader to his " Prayer of Colum- 
bus." Let those classical critics who say Walt 
could not write poetry, and those ecclesiastical 
critics who say Walt had no religion, tell us 
what to do with it, if it be not a genuine poetic 
expression of deep religious faith. 

Old, paralyzed, battered, worn and poor, 
just on the margin of the Ocean of Death, Walt 
here pours out the secrets of his soul, " under 
a thin historical disguise," as Binn well calls it. 



CHAPTER FOUR 

THE NATURE LOVER 

" Doubtless there comes a time, and perhaps it has 
come to me, when one feels through his whole being, 
and pronouncedly the emotional part, the identity 
between himself and Nature, which Schelling and 
Fichte are so fond of pressing. How it is I know not, 
but I often realize a presence here, in clear moods I am 
certain of it, and neither chemistry nor aesthetics will 
give the least explanation. ,, 

" The Oaks and I" Specimen Days. 

WALT Whitman's place among the pre- 
eminent Nature-Lovers of the world 
can be disputed by no one. His feeling for 
Nature was far beyond that of the average man. 
Dr. Bucke says, " Walt's favorite occupation 
was to stroll about out of doors, sauntering 
away by himself, looking at the grass, flowers, 
trees, vistas of light, changing aspects of the 
sky, listening to the birds, the insects, tree-frogs, 
40 



THE NATURE LOVER 41 

and all the hundreds of natural sounds. It was 
evident that these things gave him a pleasure 
far beyond what they give ordinary people. 
Until I knew him I did not dream that these 
things could give one the absolute happiness 
they gave him." Bucke's testimony is truthful 
and well deserved, for one has but to study 
Walt's life to see him the Nature-Lover. As a 
lad we find him lying on the sand, gazing into 
the sea, spellbound by its awe and mysticism. 
We see him the robust man, seeing and feeling 
Nature's great heart. And the convalescent 
down in the lane at Timber-Creek finds healing 
and happiness in the caressing air and sunshine, 
and he feels the all embracing love. The old 
man drives his horse into the ocean and sits an 
hour enjoying the sunset and gets the cold that 
brings on death. Whitman has left us abun- 
dant testimony of what he felt and saw in 
Nature; I can here take space to pick up but a 
few of these things — 

" Oxen that rattle the yoke and chain or halt in the 

leafy shade, 
What is that you express in your eyes ? 



42 WALT WHITMAN 

It seems to me more than all the print I ever read." 

Or again, his feeling of " The Night " — 

" I am one that walks with the tender and growing 
night, 

I call to the earth and sea, half-held by the night. 

Press close, bare-bosomed night — Press close mag- 
netic nourishing night; 

Night of the south winds, night of the large few stars: 

Still nodding night, mad, naked, summer night." 

He listens to the Katy-Did and records his 
feeling by saying, " The Katy-Did, how shall I 
describe its piquant utterance — every night it 
soothes me to sleep. " And the only tone of 
pathos that comes from him in the old crippled 
years, is that wrung from his lips by the thought 
that he must give up something of this out-doors, 
this direct touch with Nature. He cries out to 
us, " I am an open-air man: I am an open-water 
man. I want to get out, fly, swim, I am eager 
for my feet again. But my feet are eternally 
gone." 

But Whitman was not only the supreme 
feeler of Nature, he was also the creator of 
a literary style particularly adapted to the ex- 



THE NATURE LOVER 43 

pression of the great emotions that Nature 
makes her appreciative children feel. When 
Bryant wanted to express these emotions, he 
found as Blake had found, that the rhyme and 
rhythm of ordinary verse were all insufficient, 
and he took recourse to the stately lines of 
blank verse. But Walt went a step farther and 
created a style of his own, a literary form of 
expression that is distinctly the out-doors style. 

Ed. Carpenter, who is Whitman's fore- 
most disciple, says he has to go out of doors 
to write in Whitman style, that if he attempt 
to write inside his thoughts insist on rhyming, 
but the minute he goes outside Whitman verse 
is the result. " Whitman verse and the great 
serene, untempered facts of the Earth go to- 
gether," declares Carpenter. 

Crosby speaking on this point says, " The 
trim balance of a Christmas tree with colored 
candles and gilt balls and stars is beautiful in a 
way, but it is the want of symmetry that helps 
make the oak and the pine, kings of the forest. 
And even blank verse with all its grandeur is 
too suggestive of landscape gardening, or the 



44 WALT WHITMAN 

studied roughness of rock gardens." The con- 
clusion is that Whitmanic verse is the natural 
form of out-door expression. I can but here 
add my personal word, that for me, there is 
no form of expression so adequate to reveal the 
feelings we get in the soul when out under the 
trees, as this style of Whitman's. 

Walt's rapture of Nature reaches the point 
of a religion and has been often pointed out. 
The note sounded by Goethe, that " God and 
Nature in one form enfolds," was certainly ably 
seconded by him who declared he saw, heard and 
felt " God in every object." 

Whitman tells us his book is to be read 
" Among the cooling influences of external 
Nature." And he goes on to define what he 
means by Nature, " not the smooth walks, 
trimmed hedges, butterflies, posies and nightin- 
gales of the English poets, but the whole orb, 
with its geologic history, the Kosmos carrying 
fire and snow, that rolls through the illimitable 
areas, light as a feather though carrying mil- 
lions of tons." 

Nature to him is the whole big world carry- 



THE NATURE LOVER 45 

ing everything with it. In his preface to the 
Leaves he tells us of the effect on one's conduct, 
of this love of the Earth, and it is the best sum- 
ming up of his feeling that we have and I quote 
it in closing this consideration; he says — 

" This is what you shall do, love the earth, and sun, 
and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who 
asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your 
labor and income to others, hate tyrants, argue not con- 
cerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the 
people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, 
or to any man or number of men; go freely with the 
powerful uneducated people, and with the young, and 
with the mothers of families; read these Leaves 
(Leaves of Grass) in the open air every season of the 
year. Re-examine what you have been taught in the 
schools, or in the church, or in books, and reject what- 
ever insults your own soul." 



CHAPTER FIVE 

HIS NOTE OF JOY 

" I dote on myself — there is that lot of me, 

and all so luscious ; 
Each moment, and whatever happens, thrills me with 

joy." 

I KNOW of no place where we get such 
an interpretation of the joyousness of just 
living, as we do in the poems of Whitman. 
Burroughs speaking of Whitman's life describes 
it as being, " free, unhampered, unworldly, un- 
conventional, picturesque, simple, untouched by 
the craze of money getting, a joyfully contented 
life." " Whitman's life," continues Burroughs, 
" was a saunter through the years, too busy in 
enjoying life to be disturbed by anything." But 
let us hear Whitman for himself, he says — 

" I am enamored of growing out-doors; 
Of men that live among cattle, 

or taste of the ocean or woods ; 
46 



HIS NOTE OF JOY 47 

Of the builders and steerers of ships, 

and the wielders of axes and mauls, 
and the drivers of horses; 

I can eat and sleep with them, 
week in and week out." 

Now here we certainly have the picture, not 
of the effete and pampered, such has become so 
good an example of aristocratic success, and in 
emulation of which, half the world has worn 
itself pale and discontented, but we have the 
robust, healthy man. Such a man as any of us 
may be, and being so, may find life worth living. 
Walt show r s us that the truest joy does not come 
from the attainment of those things which we do 
not care for, but which an abnormal society says 
we must have. Walt says to us that the true 
joy of life comes in the living out of our true 
selves. Developing those loves, longings and 
desires that are especially ours. As he puts it 
for us in one of his verses — 

" When I heard at the close of day how my name had 
been received with plaudits in the capitol, 
still it was not a happy night that followed. 



48 WALT WHITMAN 

And else when I caroused, or when my plans were 

accomplished, still I was not happy; 
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of 

perfect health, refreshed, singing, inhaling the ripe 

breath of autumn, 
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and 

disappear in the morning light, 
When I wandered alone over the beach, undressed, 

bathed, laughed with the cool waters, saw the 

sunrise, 
And thought of my dear friends on their way coming, 
Then I was happy." 

Here we have it, there is nothing necessary 
to be happy, but to just live: live, freed from 
conventions and false pursuits, just live naturally 
and be possessed by the joys that are all about 
us. 

Perhaps many of us have tried at some fool- 
ish period in our life, to enter into the spirit of 
snobbish society (I have, may God forgive me) , 
to stand about in a stiff collar and starched 
shirt and black coat and white vest. To 
daintily sip from a cup of cocoa or punch, to 
nibble from some little bit — was there any 
joy in doing this? Do we not see, that being 



HIS NOTE OF JOY 4 9 

down at the beach, lolling in the sand, bare- 
footed, collarless and coatless, watching the 
crested waves come in and recede, to be filled 
with the music of their roar: to open the lunch 
and ply ourselves vigorously to the pie and 
hunk of cheese, do we not see that as Walt 
shows us, here comes joy. To go into the 
barn of any thrifty farmer, fill our nostrils of 
the cattle, horses and hay, stroke their sleek 
sides, look into their eyes, feel their fellow- 
ship, their life, does not this spell for us sweet- 
ness and joy ? Anything that is natural contains 
joy. Live in our own way, shun conventional 
make-shifts, and joy awaits us, says Whitman. 
Let us look at Walt as he presents himself in 
the i860 edition of his poems, — 

■" His shape arises 

Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish, 

Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, countryman, 

Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, 

summer swimmer in rivers or seas — 
Countenance sunburnt, bearded, unrefined, 
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gentlemen 

on equal terms, 



So WALT WHITMAN 

Passer of the right hand around the shoulder 

of his friends, 
Enterer every where, welcomed every where, 

easily understood by all " — 

Such was this man, this democrat, with a 
message that we can all hear and carry out. 
The man freed from conventions, living his 
life in his own way, and finding it as his bi- 
ographer says, " one long joyful lot." It is 
his philosophy of life which is preeminently 
fitted to lead one to realize the joy in just liv- 
ing. " Leaves of Grass," is the text-book of 
the joy of life, and the one who studies it 
long enough to get its message, will come to ac- 
cept its gospel, to quote again — 

" To breathe the air, how delicious: 

To speak, to walk, to seize something by the hana\: 

O the amazement of things: 

the spirituality of things — 

1 praise with electric voice, 

For I do not see one imperfection in the universe, 
I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last." 

Elbert Hubbard sums up with a stroke of 
genius, the whole story, when he says, " Milton 



HIS NOTE OF JOY 51 

told us all about heaven, Dante told us all 
about hell, but it remained for Walt Whitman 
to tell us about the earth." 

Binns is another who notes this " Note of 
joy " in Walt, he says, " The pages of c Leaves 
of Grass ' portray the happy man. Byron may 
dominate the whole of Europe for a genera- 
tion by the dark, Satanic splendor of his pride: 
Carlyle may hold us by his fierce, lean passion 
for sincerity: but Whitman draws us by the 
outshining of his joy." 

And so Walt docs tell us of the earth, of 
the joys, the common joys of life, accessible to 
most all of us. Walt tells of the good things 
we may have now. While other poets are 
ever looking back and grieving for the return 
of childhood's happy days, or looking ahead 
to see that " man never is, but always is to be 
blest," Walt sings of the beauties and glories 
of the present life. He rebukes our groans and 
sighs, he bids us look out and see the wonders 
of creation, he shows us we ought never to out- 
grow the child's delight at the wonders of life, 
he lifts us up, he gives us courage, manly pride, 



52 WALT WHITMAN 

self-reliance, and the strong faith that comes 
to us when we feel real kinship with the Heart 
of the Universe. To sum it up Walt infuses 
into his disciple the " Joy of Living.'' And this 
note in Walt's life never deserted him. 

He even treated of death, his own death, in 
a similar vein. He thinks of it as a soothing, 
beautiful voyage, he describes it as that ex- 
ulting moment when the vessel leaves the 
shore — 

"Joy, shipmate, joy! 
Pleased to my soul at death I cry: 
Our life is closed — our life begins : 
The long, long anchorage we leave ; 
The ship is clear, at last she leaps ■ — 
She swiftly courses from the shore: 
Joy, shipmate; Joy! " 

He welcomes it by saying — " Come, lovely, 
soothing and delicate Death." He figures it 
as a dark " mother gliding with soft footsteps," 
to relieve. 

Such is the " Note of Joy " in Whitman's 
message. The snatches of quotation I have 



HIS NOTE OF JOY 53 

made have been suggestive rather than exhaus- 
tive. 

I have not touched his long poem entitled, 
" Poem of Joys," where he starts out he tells 
us, " to make the most jubilant poem," and 
where he speaks of the joy of his spirit " un- 
caged, darting like lightning," and in which he 
goes on to treat of the exultant moments in 
the common toils of men. His work is full of 
this " Note of Joy." I have simply purposed 
to draw attention to the fact, and to show that 
no treatment of Walt is complete that does 
not take note of it. 



CHAPTER SIX 

THE POET PIONEER 

" I will lock horns for a moment with the question 
of art. With hardly an exception the poets of the day 
devote themselves mainly, sometimes altogether, to fine 
rhyme, spicy verbalism, the fabric and cut of the gar- 
ment, jewelry and style. I have not bothered much 
about style, form, art — never allowed them to impede 
me nor assume mastery over me." 

"Good-By My Fancy." 

WHITMAN was a pioneer among poetic 
writers in two things, his form of expres- 
sion and his use of sex images. His position 
was so unique, and came upon us so abruptly, 
that we are not yet over discussing it, and any 
treatment of the poet must consider it. True, 
Carpenter in his recent excellent study dismisses 
the question as one, " futile because wholly rhe- 
torical, M but this dismission will hardly suffice. 
First let us take up Walt's form of expression. 

54 



THE POET PIONEER 55 

Is it poetry, or only prose in disguise, as his 
enemies declare. The answer we will give will 
probably depend upon our theory of what art 
really is. If we regard the true artist as the 
one who mixes colors or disposes words, then we 
will hardly put Walt in the class with those 
workers, like Tennyson for instance, who take 
a very slender line of thought and work it over 
and over for 40 years till it becomes well nigh 
technically perfect. But if we regard as the 
artist, the man who reproduces in you the emo- 
tions that he felt when he saw with eagle eye, 
and sang or painted, then we must rate Walt as 
far above such as Tennyson as the moon is above 
the stars. The popular objection to Walt's 
abandonment of the common meter and rhyme, 
is not so formidable as it appears, upon reflec- 
tion a bit. When we pause to think a bit we 
begin to see with Shelley, that the rule estab- 
lished in literature that writers of prose must 
seek new forms while writers of poetry may 
not, is a bad rule. We begin to feel that we 
should hail a pioneer. And Whitman is that 
poet-pioneer, as Stedman says, " ' Leaves of 



56 WALT WHITMAN 

Grass ' in thought and method is avowedly a 
protest against a hackneyed breed of singers, 
singing the same old songs." And we have a 
higher authority that Stedman, we have the 
poet himself, in his own summing up of him- 
self in a review, he says — " An American 
bard at last — one of the roughs, large, proud, 
affectionate, eating, drinking and breeding — 
his costume manly and free, his face sun-burnt 
and bearded. For intellectual people who 
follow their reading, dress and eating by Lon- 
don or Paris — who keep in out of doors, never 
touch the earth bare-foot, he does not sing. No 
tea-drinking poet is Walt Whitman, but a rude 
child of the people." 

However much some may criticise Walt's 
taste, or lack of it, in writing this view about 
himself, it must stand as the authoritative sum- 
ming-up of what he meant by his work, and how 
he most desired it should be regarded. I know 
of no statement that has ever been made, that 
I believe would have pleased Walt so much, as 
that of Prof. Carpenter, when he says of Walt, 
" For the first time in our modern centuries a 



THE POET PIONEER 57 

poet had been born of the people who was not 
a renegade." We must also recall that other 
writers, notably Shelley and Emerson, had 
lamented the narrow confines of poetic form, 
and even experimented along the line of new 
development. They did not succeed, Whitman 
did. Whitman tried the classical forms and 
found them insufficient, that they were not 
adapted to him nor he to them, so he boldly 
threw them out, with a courage native to him- 
self, and originated the irregular lines better 
adapted to his self-expression. His own de- 
fense was set forth in his manifesto preface to 
the first edition and the words that sum up his 
idea, are " simplicity and originality of expres- 
sion." Walt's lines are not, however, utterly 
abandoned, they are indeed carefully chosen; 
and he tells us he searched for proper words and 
forms as much as the most careful stylist. He 
once told Burroughs he had been searching for 
25 years for a word to express what the twi- 
light song of the robins meant to him. The 
wonderful amount of expression contained in 
the titles of his pieces shows to us that his words 



58 WALT WHITMAN 

were not stumbled on, but carefully and power- 
fully selected. The same care is shown in the 
length of his lines, and they come to make for 
us neither prose nor poem, but a sort of free 
and yet measured chant. They do not lend 
themselves readily to popularity, they are hardly 
quotable like rhymed things. Tennyson once 
declared for rhyme because it assisted the 
memory, but Ingersoll well points out, that with 
the use of the printing press, the old idea of 
a poet being also a rhymester is no longer neces- 
sary. Ingersoll even went further and declared 
rhyme was a hindrance, because it compelled 
the poet to wander from his subject and inter- 
fered with his dramatic action, which, as poetry 
is the sudden, short bursting into blossom of a 
great thought, must destroy poetry. Walt's 
lines then can never go into the school-room and 
displace Longfellow's " Psalm of Life." And 
there is a certain stateliness in the lines of " In 
Memoriam " which we miss in Walt's chants. 
But there is a strength, a ruggedness, an out- 
door and elemental somewhat in Walt's chants 
that makes them true poems, and one of the 



THE POET PIONEER 59 

grand forms of literary expression. We do not 
look for Whitman's forms to displace the 
ordinary forms, but we look for them to rise, if 
they have not already done so, to a recognized 
position as a needed and essential form of liter- 
ary expression; that has an equal worth with 
any other, and that has a strength and freedom 
that can never be attained in rhyme and meter. 
Whitman then was a poet, even though, as he 
says, he did not make poetry with reference to 
parts. 

To those who want sweet songs of domestic 
sentiments, of course others like Longfellow 
will be preferred; but to those who are strong 
enough to receive it, Walt's poetry will come as 
a gospel, and a gospel of beauty, even though in 
a new and strange form. 

The second great objection to Whitman as a 
poet is because of the sexual character of many 
of his images. Now we must begin by under- 
standing the place of sex in Walt's scheme of 
things — he is going to speak of all, and to show 
that all is good. Inklings of the Hegelian phU 
losophy have come through to Walt, he finds 



6o WALT WHITMAN 

everything has a place in the world purposes. 
Now it is manifest that Walt cannot carry out 
this idea, and omit so big a part of human life 
and experience as sex. This would cause a sad 
break in his scheme. His philosophy is not 
true, if sex has no place. And if sex has a 
legitimate place, then it is clean and honorable. 
Then again I believe Walt's treatment of sex 
is healthy and sane. It is true his sex is, as 
Symonds points out, not that of the boudoir, the 
alcove, neither is it the sex of the brotheL It 
is the clean healthy relation between the male 
and female. Walt is as much against vice as 
against prudishness, he would have us recognize 
that, 

" If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred, 
And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of man- 
hood untainted; 
And in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibered 
body is beautiful as the most beautiful face." 

Walt's scheme then made treatment of sex 
necessary, he is to voice a protest against that 
dishonor which asceticism has placed upon the 
human body. And his demand for freedom in 



THE POET PIONEER 61 

literature makes it imperative that he be free to 
speak of sex. He declares it his purpose when 
he says, 

" I will show of the male and the female that either is 

but the equal of the other; 
And sexual organs and acts, I am determined to tell 

you with courageous voice, and to prove you 

illustrious." 

I do not see how we can criticise " Children 
of Adam " ; " if these passages cause society to 
blush," as the English writer says, " so much the 
worse for society." We need to get away from 
prudishness. We need to remember, as Heine 
once remarked to the protesting matron, " Mad- 
am we are all naked under our clothes." Walt 
never felt that he erred in his treatment of sex, 
even though it aroused so much stir; in one of 
his Camden talks, he says, " All this fear of in- 
decency, all this noise about purity and sex is 
nasty — too nasty to make compromise with." 

His abhorrence of vice was strong, he tells 
us — 

" Have you seen the fool who corrupted his own live 
body? 



62 WALT WHITMAN 

Or the fool who corrupted her own live body? 
They can not conceal themselves. 

In treating sex, Whitman was simply true — 
for sex and its passions are one of the great 
facts of the universe, and we can not longer pay 
any attention to the Anthony Comstocks. If 
these over-sensitive and over-conservative peo- 
ple had their way, we should never have had the 
Reformation, the Renaissance or the French 
Revolution : we should never have had Voltaire, 
the French Encyclopaedia, Shelley or Byron. 

But there is another item to be called up, did 
Walt sometimes go too far? Frankly I think 
he did. He could have carried out his philos- 
ophy and at the same time payed a little more 
respect to the commonly accepted feelings of 
society. Granting that Walt was writing for 
the divine average and not the so-called refined, 
yet it must be confessed he is sometimes pretty 
bold. His images are as Symonds says " auda- 
cious. " Take this one for instance — 

" The hairy wild bee that murmurs and hankers up 
and down — 



THE POET PIONEER 63 

That grips the full-grown lady flower, curves upon her 
with amorous legs, takes his will of her, and 
holds her to himself tremulous and tight till 
satisfied. " 

or again, 

" I turn the bride-groom out of bed, and stay with the 

bride myself; 
I tighten her all night to my thighs and lips. ,, 

Such passages, and there were still others in his 
first edition, that were later removed, these make 
us feel that Walt did not have quite enough 
respect for the taste of society. And in view 
of the great abuses of the sexual life which 
humanity has made, most of us will think it were 
a little better not to have been so bold. 

But summing all up, Walt Whitman was a 
poet, and none the less a poet because a pioneer. 
His work is poetry, though it throws off the 
rhyme and meter : and it is clean poetry, though 
it uses sex images. 

He may have overdone both, as it is plain 
he did. He is ofttimes too audacious with his 
sex, he ofttimes drifts into the uncouth and cat- 



64 WALT WHITMAN 

aloguing (Emerson told him this, and Emerson 
was wise) yet his chants are great poems. 
11 Leaves of Grass " indeed " strike up the song 
for the new world." His work is a great pro- 
duction, and to appreciate it, one needs, as 
Burroughs says, to come to see that it is more 
than mere literary product, that it is the ex- 
pression of a new gospel. 

Walt's work had a value quite apart from 
literary quality, but we will not minimize that 
quality. A work that could grip so fastidious 
a person as Stevenson, could for him, as he says, 
" Turn the world upside down, blow him into 
space a thousand cobwebs of illusion," must have 
some merit. And Walt was a poet because he 
had the poet's soul. He was the true mystic 
with eyes to see farther than the slow-going 
plodding mortals. As a lad we see him lying 
on the sand and looking into the sea, and feeling 
its awe and mysticism. In the robust man 
traveling over the city or up and down the 
states, he sees more than cars and teams, 
houses and roads, he sees the spirit in every- 
thing. 



THE POET PIONEER 65 

A convalescent we find him roaming the lanes, 
and sitting beneath the willows of Timber 
Creek; sitting for hours and days caressed by 
the air and sunshine, and feeling all the em- 
bracing love of the Universe. 

The old man driving his horse into the sea- 
edge and sitting an hour enraptured of the sun- 
set, getting the cold that brings his death, here 
we have the mystic, the poet. The observer 
who can see in 

" Oxen that rattle the chain, 

or halt in the leafy shade : 
What do you express in your eyes, 
It seems to me more than all the print of the world." 

The man who can see these things is a poet. 
He has the soul of a poet, and his productions 
bear the stamp of true poetry, and other poets 
can not disown him, even if he uses different 
forms from theirs. 

" Surely whosoever speaks to me in the right voice, 

him or her I will follow, 
As the water follows the moon, silently with fluid 

steps anywhere round the globe." 



66 WALT WHITMAN 

If this be not a poet's expression of the re- 
sponse of one person to the appeal of another 
personality, then I am at loss to know what a 
poetic expression is. As Emerson said, " Whit- 
man had the terrible eyes to see back into the 
soul of everything," and I am sure that he had 
also the poet's genius to tell the world what he 
saw. 



CHAPTER SEVEN 

HIS PLACE AMONG THE PROPHETS 

I here announce myself a follower of Walt Whitman. 
I have caught his vision of myself ; 
I have caught his vision of humanity ; 
I have caught his vision of the Universe. 
I see life as he saw it, sincere, sane and hearty, 
To be lived simply, free from imaginary lines, 
Above conflicting creeds, warring systems and petty 
standards. 

Walt leads me to the heights, I look down on all sides, 
My soul becomes strong, strong enough for the Open 

Road, 
Henceforth I know no classes, sinners nor saints, 
I fellowship with all, I enjoy it all, the world is good, 
And I follow down the long brown path with Walt 

Whitman my leader. 

R. D. S. 

IT will be a long time before Walt Whitman 
can be accepted by all. He shares the fate 
of the strong personalities, of the prophets, of 

67 



68 WALT WHITMAN 

creating a division. To have the good-will of 
every one, we need to say nothing, do nothing, 
be nothing. But as with Jesus, strong souls 
become a rising to some, a falling to some. The 
sane view of those who reject Walt is best ex- 
pressed by John Jay Chapman in his essay on 
Emerson. Chapman shows us how Walt looks 
to the thoroughly conventional eye, from such 
a standpoint the estimate is just. Chapman 
says, " Walt Whitman is a type of those who 
after a sincere attempt to take a place in or- 
ganized society, revolt from its drudgery." 
Chapman continues, " I have often wondered 
how life appears to the tramp, the wandering 
worker, Walt tells me. He is the type of the 
man who has tasted the joy of being in the open, 
of being disreputable and unashamed, he has 
reached an experience where life has for him 
no terrors, and upon him society has no hold." 
This estimate is just from the standpoint of 
conventional society. 

The question remains to be decided however, 
whether society is right or whether Walt was 
right. We can only say for the present, that 



AMONG THE PROPHETS 69 

each year an increasing number of souls come to 
feel like Walt, and hence come to regard him as 
a prophet. As Clarence Darrow says for us, 
" When man has grown simpler and saner and 
truer, when the fever of civilization has been 
subdued and the pestilence cured; when man 
shall no longer deny and revile the universal 
mother who gave him birth, then Walt Whit- 
man's day will come. In the clear light of that 
regenerated time, when the world looks back 
on the doubt and mist and confusion of to-day, 
Walt Whitman will stand forth, the greatest, 
truest, noblest prophet of the age, a man un- 
tainted by artificial life and unmoved by the 
false standards of his time." Whitman has 
sometimes by enthusiastic followers been likened 
to Plato, but this is far from the point, he is 
rather to be likened to Isaiah and the other 
rugged Old Testament Prophets. Or he might 
be likened as Bucke says, to one of our primitive 
Aryan ancestors who suddenly comes back to 
life. 

Walt was not a philosopher, not a scholar, 
of organized knowledge, of systematic learning 



70 WALT WHITMAN 

he knew little. Says Carpenter, " Of that vast 
structure of classified information that we call 
scholarship, Whitman had no conception, he 
handled books clumsily and was not a book- 
man." 

This is a true estimate, one who looks into 
Walt's writings, his Journals, prose writings, 
" Camden Talks," etc., expecting to find any 
cut and dried philosophy will be sadly disap- 
pointed. Walt had no carefully wrought out 
philosophy, he was a seer, a poet, a prophet, 
pure and simple. And Walt was a prophet — 
First, as a poet — He was the logical successor 
of Burns, Blake and Shelley in poetry, and his 
conception of life belongs with such men as 
Rousseau, Voltaire, Paine, Mazzini, Emerson, 
Tolstoy, Thoreau. 

The new self-consciousness, social enthusiasm 
and perception of Nature, with the new interpre- 
tation of religion, which were the great ideas 
that actuated these men, Walt felt and 
pushed along. 

Walt was a prophet of a new school of poetry, 
of literature. He stands a John the Baptist 



AMONG THE PROPHETS 71 

crying for a literature that shall be wider, social, 
democratic in scope. He tells the world it can 
not longer be content with a poetry, however 
beautiful its technique, unless it be in touch with 
the modern intellectual movements and the 
pulsing heart of man, 

Of course Walt had to feel this way for he 
was, secondly a pioneer democrat, a prophet of 
the new democracy. Thoreau meeting him 
goes away saying, " he is our greatest demo- 
crat." And Carpenter sums him up so well 
when he says, " Whitman was the genuine 
democrat; with titanic optimism he believed 
that the hope of humanity lay in these unedu- 
cated, illiterate hordes. Here dwelt the in- 
exhaustible energy, here he saw the great vital 
forces of humanity." 

And thirdly, Whitman was prophet of a new 
kind of knowledge. His knowledge came to 
him as a certain illumination, an intuition, rather 
than from reasoning processes. And he tells 
us that the final test of truth shall be whether 
we feel it so. By which he means that the final 
appeal is not to the intellect, but to the sense, the 



72 WALT WHITMAN 

emotions, the whole of us. Matters fun- 
damental are not to be settled by speculative 
argument in the realm of pure intellect, but we 
intuitively detect truth, rather than reason it 
out. Reason at the best can only seek to 
analyze what we already know, and ditto science. 
So the great interpreters are not those who 
register facts of science, but those who touch our 
sense. Whitman stood for the validity of the 
intuition part of us. And was he not wise? 
The " cool, clear logic/' of a Calvin or an Ed- 
wards can send us all to hell. It can justify 
capital punishment, but when Tolstoy hears the 
dull thud of the victim's head as it drops from 
the guillotine to the basket, he does not stop for 
" logic " or " reasoning," he knows this thing 
is wrong. As Penn had said of the Indians, 
" they can believe in God and immortality with- 
out the aid of metaphysics," so Walt would 
declare of us to-day. 

But Walt was supreme as a prophet, in being 
the prophet of a man, the best kind of a man, 
the new man, the modern man, the fruit of the 
age, the man of the coming society. " Com- 



AMONG THE PROPHETS 73 

rade," he cries, " this is no book, who touches 
this touches a man." We are no blind hero 
worshipers, we know that Walt had his 
weaknesses. He had a certain egotism, 
which he frankly admitted, glorified in, all of 
which will ever seem a little coarse. His use of 
Emerson's letter, his writing press notices about 
himself, his arising at the close of Ingersoll's 
eulogy to receive the applause, his preparation 
of his own tomb to become a sort of Mecca for 
the faithful, all of this has the element of the 
" poseur." 

Again there was a certain arrogance and nar- 
rowness in his make-up, he often needlessly 
quarreled with good friends like Doyle and 
O'Connor, he did not always seem to appreciate 
their deeds in his behalf, he had a lack of frank- 
ness in many matters. He did not grasp the 
economic features of democracy though so 
radical a champion of it, nor did he always 
appreciate the efforts of those working for it at 
great sacrifice, as for instance when he praised 
the German Emperor. His poetry is ofttimes 
tiresome and needlessly burdened. But after all, 



74 WALT WHITMAN 

what man is there of whom we can not say as 
many things in criticism of him. 

John Burroughs, perhaps the sanest, ablest 
student of Walt, who knew Walt, had his friend- 
ship, speaks of Walt the man, in this manner; 
says Burroughs, " In his home Walt was gentle 
and patient and conciliatory. He was a pre- 
eminently manly man, richly endowed with 
healthy human qualities, and built in a large 
mold every way. He had a fresh, strong, sym- 
pathetic nature. The atmosphere of Walt 
Whitman was that of a large, tolerant, tender, 
sympathetic, restful man." Dr. Johnson of 
England, stated after a visit to Whitman, " He 
impresses me with a sense of strength, intel- 
lectual power and winning sweetness." Joel 
Chandler Harris said of Walt when he died, 
" He was a man broad and deep, and men must 
have broad and deep sympathies to possess the 
password to Walt Whitman." Bucke says of 
him, " No man ever liked so many things and 
disliked so few as Whitman, all sights and 
sounds pleased him. He never argued or dis- 
puted, he never spoke about money. He never 



AMONG THE PROPHETS 75 

complained or grumbled about the weather, 
pain, illness or any thing else. He never swore, 
and apparently was never angry or afraid." 

These qualities in Walt have led some of his 
enthusiastic disciples to regard him as a great 
restorer of a natural religion, and they have 
placed him by the side of the Founder of 
Christianity. Prof. James, looking at him from 
the scientific standpoint says, " He is the su- 
preme example of the inability to feel any evil, 
and in many respects he is in the genuine lineage 
of the prophets." We must conclude then, that 
after all has been said, all criticisms made, that 
Walt Whitman was a large-souled, great- 
hearted loving man of exceptional power, and 
possessing a large measure of what we speak of 
as genius. He loves all, he feels for all; he 
refuses to send the boys away from his sick 
room on the noisy Fourth of July lest their sport 
be spoiled, he puts his sheltering arm about the 
weak, the unprotected, the outcasts. 

Walt Whitman has left us I believe, the ex- 
ample of a fine spirit, a spirit that for contain- 
ing the graces of the Great Galilean has been 



76 WALT WHITMAN 

equaled by only three other historic characters, 
St. Francis, Burns and Tolstoy. 

He was a man, a man to follow, and the out- 
pourings of his soul as found in " Leaves of 
Grass," will furnish to those who come to them 
for stimulus, impulse and emotion, a larger 
view of life and a more robust taste. To those 
who come to Walt Whitman's poems for pretty 
technique or cut and dried philosophy, there is 
bound to be disappointment, but to those who 
come to them for suggestion for thought and 
emotion, for a touch with a large soul, with a 
prophet, I am sure satisfaction awaits.